End the assault on our families!

Families share what life is like when parents are deported

By John Marth, Senior Content Specialist

March 28, 2017

Fatima Avelica, 13, ran the L.A. Marathon with her father Romulo. “I finished the marathon with the help of my dad, who was always at my weekend practices, always right beside me, making sure I don’t give up.” Now her coach is gone.

Protect and defendStanding at the Capitol with her younger sister Yuleni, the two wore their medals while talking about what has happened to their family since feeling like champions that day. They shared what happens when undocumented immigrants are targeted simply for being undocumented—and that the idea that only “bad hombres” are being deported—is a weak lie.

They were with Rose Escobar and her seven-year-old son Walter (pictured here with Janet Murguía), whose father Jose was deported. They represent the “victims of policies perpetuated by our government that are tearing families and lives apart,” said NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also gave remarks, along with Senators Kamala Harris and Bob Menendez.

Watch the video of the event here or below:

An emotional marathon

“On a Tuesday morning, my father was detained in front of me on the way to school,” Fatima recalled. Romulo was pulled over and put in handcuffs after dropping Yuleni off at school in Los Angeles. “It was the hardest thing to watch, but I still went to school, because my father’s shown me the importance of education,” Fatima said.

Since that day, the sisters’ lives have been upended, and they don’t know what will happen to their dad. Fatima got to see Romulo three days ago at a detention center. “He looks a lot skinnier. I’m worried that over time he’ll change more.”

The trauma has made her want to become an immigration lawyer to defend other people from the injustice the Avelicas have suffered. “That’ll be another marathon for me. But I need my coach. I need my dad.”

“Why is my American Dream being crushed?”

Walter Escobar held a framed photo of his family while his mother Rose told us about his father. Rose met Jose when they were teenagers, not long after Jose arrived in the United States. “We fell in love,” Rose said. “And later on we decided to have our own American Dream. Bought a house. Had children.”

But that was disrupted when Jose was recently detained over a decade-old paperwork error. His mother misfiled his residency renewal papers. Jose was deported to El Salvador, leaving Rose to raise Walter and her two-year-old daughter alone in Houston. Walter’s left wondering where his father is. His little sister yells “Papi!” whenever their front door opens, and “every time,” Rose said, “I have to tell her that Papi isn’t here.”

Unless the sentence is overturned, Jose won’t be able to come back to the United States for 15 years. “He’s losing out on our children’s lives,” Rose said.

“Why is my American Dream being crushed by my own country?” Rose asked the room. “I’m trying to do things the right way, but there’s no pathway.” Without seeing her husband every day, she fears the worst: “Now I fear that I’ll get a phone call saying my husband’s been murdered. How do I explain that to my children?”

Time to act

“These are the stories, these gut-wrenching stories, that we’ve been dealing with for some time,” Senator Bob Menendez said. “When you treat a father the same way you treat a gangbanger, something is wrong. For a party that believes in family values, why is ripping apart families something you’re so proud of doing?” Menendez asked Republicans.

Senator Harris said that the country’s climate reminds her of the civil rights era of the 1960s, when her parents met. “We are being challenged as a country to look in the mirror and say ‘Who are we?’” she said.

The two senators each announced bills to prevent what happened to the Avelicas and the Escobars from happening to others. The bills would set up standards to ensure that anyone affected by immigration enforcement—whether they’re U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or immigrants—receives fair and humane treatment. “We have to end the assault on children like Walter, who’s still waiting for his father to come home,” Murguía said.

For the rest of us, Senator Schumer’s advice is to keep fighting the good fight: “Keep organizing. Keep calling. Keep marching. Your voices are heard around the world.”